Patent Office Deals Blow to Mission Abstract Data

Many of the key patent claims are rejected on reconsideration
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An examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected many of the key claims made by Mission Abstract Data that lie at the heart of a patent dispute involving hard-disk automation systems.

Mission Abstract Data has been pursuing a lawsuit against several of the largest broadcast ownership groups, and trying to collect fees from other stations, citing two patents issued in the 1990s for music on hard disk technology.

The resulting legal battle has been playing out on multiple fronts, including a challenge to the underlying patents. That’s where the latest development has occurred.

In an “office action” — a letter from a trademark examining attorney setting forth the legal status of a trademark application — PTO Examiner Jason Proctor now has overturned 15 of the 29 challenged claims within the first patent, and five of the 10 claims in the second.

Further, the claims that were upheld appear at first review to be more peripheral, having to do with how the music is accessed over a phone network or a cable TV network, and configuration of storage. But the patent claim to application of key concepts such as “standard PC networks with central storage” and “shared audio files database” were rejected.

Among the references that the patent examiner cited were a manual for an Arrakis Digilink digital audio workstation in 1992, a Dalet manual from that same year and a Dalet advertisement that appeared in Radio World in the fall of 1993.

Broadcast Electronics, a radio automation supplier but not a defendant in the patent infringement lawsuit, had requested the “ex-parte” patent reexamination earlier this year.

Whether this development will put an end to the patent dispute is unclear, since at least some of the patent claims were upheld, and Mission Abstract Data has two months to respond to the rejections. Meanwhile, a court hearing to consider a stay request by the defendants in the infringement case is scheduled for this Thursday. Mission Abstract Data sued in U.S. District Court for the District Delaware in March 2011, alleging patent infringement by broadcast groups, including CBS Radio, Beasely Broadcasting, Cox Radio, Greater Media and Cumulus.

--Paul McLane and Randy Stine

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